By the time I was six years old, I knew I was born to write. Not to write would betray the reason for my existence.
But I tried to escape my fate. I studied dancing, acting, and languages. Then I settled on music.
When I was growing up, my family was too poor to own a piano, so I made it my business to teach myself how to play the pianos at school. First I had to figure out when the pianos would be available, then find ways to get to them and use them without being stopped. I realized I would have to learn to read music. I accomplished that feat by looking at sheet music for songs I already knew. I was so successful that I decided to major in music starting my sophomore year at the University of California.
Meanwhile, my fascination with languages led me to study them on my own. As a child, I taught myself French and Italian. During undergraduate college, I added German. When I graduated from college, I enlisted in the army—I was about to be drafted anyway—with the proviso that I’d go to the Army Language School to study Chinese, a language that fascinated me. The army decided to teach me Vietnamese instead, thus shaping the rest of my life. I made up for that decision by enrolling in Chinese classes at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., after I was assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland.
Along the way, I went through a series of pianos. The first one I bought for less than a hundred dollars while I was in college. It was an ancient upright missing some strings and chronically out of tune. But it was sufficient for me to play through my harmony and counterpoint assignments. My first grand piano came many years later. These days I am the proud owner of a Steinway grand, a gift from my eldest daughter.
To earn a living and support my family, I became a spy, employed the National Security Agency (NSA). Before my career was over, I had learned and worked all over the world in seven languages other than English. Comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam, I spent the better part of thirteen years in that country under cover as military and supporting U.S. units on the battlefield. Where I worked after the fall of Vietnam in 1975 is still classified.